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Research Grants

2018 HFSP Awardees Meeting - Toronto


Distinguishing Features of the HFSP Research Grant Program

HFSP Research Grants support innovative basic research into fundamental biological problems with emphasis placed on novel and interdisciplinary approaches that involve scientific exchanges across national and disciplinary boundaries (see guidelines).

Projects are expected to be at the frontiers of knowledge and therefore entail risk. Participation of scientists from disciplines outside the traditional life sciences such as biophysics, chemistry, computational biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, nanoscience or physics is recommended because their contributions have made biological research increasingly quantitative and because such collaborations have opened up new approaches for understanding the complex structures and regulatory networks that characterize living organisms, their evolution and interactions.

Research grants are provided for teams of scientists from different countries who wish to combine their expertise in innovative approaches to questions that could not be answered by individual laboratories. Preliminary results are not required and applicants are expected to develop new lines of research through the research collaboration.

Applied applications, including medical research typically funded by national medical research bodies, will be deemed ineligible.

Two types of Research Grant are available: Young Investigators' Grants and Program Grants.

Young Investigators Program Grants
Awarded to teams of researchers, all of whom are within the first five years after obtaining an independent laboratory (e.g. Assistant Professor, Lecturer or equivalent). Applications for Young Investigators' Grants will be reviewed in competition with each other independently of applications for Program Grants. Awarded to teams of independent researchers at any stage of their careers. The research team is expected to develop new lines of research through the collaboration. Up to $450,000 per grant per year may be applied for. Applications including independent investigators early in their careers are encouraged

Both provide 3 years support for 2 – 4 member teams.

Awards are dependent upon team size.

Awards may be up to a maximum of  $450,000 per year (teams of 4 or more).

HFSP Research Grants are paid to the team and the maximum amount paid is $450,000 for a team of 4 or more.

  • A team of 2 investigators will receive $250,000 and a team of 3 will receive $350,000 per year.
  • Two members from the same country will be considered as a single team member for purposes of calculating the award, unless they constitute an interdisciplinary collaboration in which case they will be awarded an amount equivalent to 1.5 team members (currently $300,000 for a team of ‘2.5’ and $400,000 for ‘3.5’ team members).
  • In the case of a two-member team with one member in a for-profit institution, the total annual award will be reduced to $125,000. In other cases the for-profit member will not be included when calculating the amount of the award.

For Applicants

Applicants must submit a letter of intent to apply for a research grant via the HFSP website with a deadline at the end of March, and after review, selected teams will be invited to submit a full application. Please check here for the recent changes in research grant applications.

Step 1 : Letters of Intent


i. Compulsory initiation of a letter of Intent by obtaining a LIXXXX/2021 reference number by March 19th 2020 (updated for each cycle)

ii. Submission of Letters of Intent: March 30th 2020 (updated for each cycle)

Please read the guidelines and the document ‘Writing a letter of intent’ carefully to establish whether your project is clearly in tune with the requirements and emphasis of the research grant program. You must first submit a letter of intent to apply for a grant, which must be done online as described below. Scientific elements needed to complete an application are provided here. The main steps in applying are as follows:

1. The research team must designate one member as Principal Applicant, who will be responsible for final submission of the letter of intent. Note the requirement that the Principal Applicant must have his/her primary laboratory in a member country. See Item 4.3. of the guidelines (“Research Teams”) for more detail.

2. In setting up the team, the Principal Applicant must ensure that no team member is a Principal Applicant or Co-Applicant on another proposal (see Item 4.7. in the guidelines). Failure to ensure this will result in all those applications being withdrawn from the competition.

3. The Principal Applicant must obtain a 2021 reference application number on the HFSP extranet site (at the address The Principal Applicant will first have to set up a password (if not already in the HFSP database). This will give access to the online application form and further instructions concerning online submission (including the addition of the other team members). It is essential to obtain a 2021 reference number as soon as the team has seriously decided to submit a letter of intent. Team members can be modified up to the final submission date. An application number must be obtained by March 19th at the latest. Principal applicants already listed in the HFSP database (e.g. those re-applying from last year) must also obtain a 2021 reference number by March 19th.

4. In all cases, the co-applicants must approve their participation via a link generated by the Principal Applicant before the application can be completed and submitted.

5. The letter of intent must be submitted by March 30th 2020. No changes can be made to the letter of intent after final submission.

6. The Principal Applicant will be notified by the beginning of July if the team is invited to submit a full application. The deadline for the full application will be mid - September 2020.

Step 2 : Full Applications

For information only, see HERE the instructions for submitting full applications in the 2021 cycle. These are updated each year.

For Awardees

See HERE other helpful resources for Research Grant awardees.


For questions or assistance, please contact the Research Grant Office at Click here to show mail address.



HFSP Research Grants support teams of independent leaders of research groups. Therefore applications from individual scientists or early career researchers carrying out their postdoctoral or PhD level projects are not eligible.

Young Investigators

  • All members of a Young Investigators’ grant team must be within 5 years of obtaining an independent position (see below) but must have obtained their first doctoral degree (PhD, MD or equivalent) not longer than 10 years before the deadline for submission of the letter of intent. For exceptional circumstances please refer to Section 3.1 of the Application Guidelines.
  • A Young Investigator should be a project leader directing a research group. They must have full responsibility for the day to day running of their laboratories and will have full control of the HFSP funds.
  • Written confirmation may be requested from the Head of Department in the case of an applicant who independently oversees a research theme.

Program Grants

  • All members of a Program Grant team must be in a position to initiate and direct their own independent lines of research.
  • They must have full scientific and financial responsibility for their own laboratories (however small).
  • There are common features for Young Investigators and Program Grants regarding the interdisciplinary team composition. Please refer to Section 3.3 of the Application Guidelines.


In addition to the above special requirements for the Young Investigators’ and Program Grants, there are a number of conditions that must be met by all grant applications concerning:

  • Structure of the team. The research teams must be international. The principal applicant must be from one of the member countries. However, other participating scientists and laboratories may be situated anywhere in the world.
  • Principal Applicant. The Principal Applicant of a Research Grant must have a laboratory in a member country (with the exception of HFSP Career Development Awardees). All team members are expected to direct a research group (however small) and must have a doctoral degree (PhD, MD or equivalent). The HFSP award is not intended to create scientific independence, this is a decision of the research institute prior to the application. Team members must be able to determine the course of the HFSP-funded project and have freedom to administer the grant award.

Additional conditions apply regarding: the institutional affiliations, the number of team members, the country of affiliation, internationality of the team, concurrent applications and new applications from previous grant awardees. The detailed explanations are given in Section 4 of the Application Guidelines.


There is a single annual competition for Research Grant awards. Review of research grant applications is performed in two stages

1. Applicants must first submit a letter of intent via the HFSP web site, with a deadline around the end of March/beginning of April. After review of the letters of intent, invitations are issued in early July to the teams selected to submit full applications.

2. Full applications are then due around the middle of September.

HFSP is a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA) which we consider to be an incentive to evaluate research proposals on the basis of their content and not solely by the criterion of Journal Impact Factors (JIF). Reviewers at all stages of the HFSP grant application process are advised that they should consider the quality of the research published and/or proposed in an application. While productivity may be an important factor, the assessment will be based on the content of articles and not the JIF. Furthermore HFSP reviewers are asked to consider the influence of candidates’ publications in advancing knowledge in a given field (or throughout biology).

Letters of intent

The letters of intent are first examined by the Secretariat for formal eligibility and consistency with the scope of the Program as outlined in the application Guidelines. Letters of intent that are considered out of scope by three Scientific Directors are sent to two members of the Grant Review Committee. If both concur then the letter of intent does not enter the review procedure and the Principal Applicant is informed as soon as possible. Only letters of intent that have received five negative opinions are eliminated (triage), the others are returned to the competition ‘unmarked’. Thereafter each eligible letter of intent is sent to two review committee members who are asked to classify the applications according to interdisciplinarity, novelty and innovation, need for collaboration. Importance is given to innovative approaches for cutting edge science. Interdisciplinarity is often an important criterion and HFSP actively encourages participation of scientists from physics, chemistry, informatics, nanoscience and engineering in research into frontier biological questions.

A smaller Selection Committee then meets to discuss the review committee's ratings and issues the invitations for full applications. The Selection Committee consists of the Chair and members taken from past or present Review Committees or the HFSP Council of Scientists. Currently about 10% of teams submitting letters of intent are invited to submit full applications.

See HERE for members of the selection committee for the 2021 award round.

Full applications

Each full application is reviewed by two members of the Review Committee and by expert opinions solicited from the scientific community. Every effort is made to obtain at least three independent external reviews per application. The Review Committee members submit their evaluations to the HFSP Secretariat before the committee meets. In cases where the opinions of the two Review Committee members assigned to an application differ significantly the application is sent to a third member. The committee members are also asked to read all the applications before the meeting to ensure thorough discussion and all full applications are discussed at the meeting. The same criteria are used to evaluate the full applications as were applied for the letters of intent. Between 30 and 35% of full applications are successful.

The Young Investigators' Grants and Program Grants are reviewed as two separate groups but the procedures are identical.

The recommendations of the Review Committee must be approved by members of the Council of Scientists and the Board of Trustees before the awards are announced at the end of March.

See HERE for current members of the Research Grant Review Committee.


In the 2020 award year we received 702 Letters of Intent (LoIs). About 16% of these were considered by a small scientific committee to be inappropriate with regards to HFSP's funding priorities (see below) and were eliminated from the competition. The other LoIs were each scored in detail by 2 members of the Review Committee (by mail) and about a third of the LoIs submitted were then further scored by members of the Selection Committee who reviewed this group during a 3 day meeting in Strasbourg. The Selection Committee invited 85 teams (c. 12% of the eligible LoIs submitted) to submit a full application. Of these we expect that about 33% of the full applications received will be recommended for funding (about 4% of the original LoIs).

The most common structural reasons for eliminating teams are:
• team members with very close expertise, all within the traditional life sciences
• the team was clearly continuing an ongoing collaboration (including projects with former mentors)

HFSPO funds basic life science research. HFSPO does not fund the following (Guidelines 2.3.):

1. Projects of a purely applied nature. For example:
      •    projects of a primarily clinical and pharmaceutical nature are only considered if they allow new insights into fundamental biological mechanisms of disease;
      •    projects aimed at developing methods of diagnosis or treatment, including the search for potential drug targets or advanced trials of drugs under development;
      •    applied research in engineering, biotechnology, or nanotechnology, that does not address a fundamental biological problem;
      •    projects directly concerned with agricultural problems such as crop yield or breeding and environmental problems such as pollution.

2. Research aimed at developing novel methods or the study of analogs or models of biological activity unless these methods allow new biological questions to be answered in the context of the aim of the HFSP to fund fundamental research.

3. Observational projects or systematic screening approaches.

4. Large-scale data collection as such, unless there is a convincing rationale for the collection and detailed methodology for the data analysis; this includes the systematic multi-species-omic analyses of populations or ecosystems, which do not address a fundamental biological question of general interest. However, studies of the mechanisms of species-species interactions or their co-evolution are eligible.

5. Research in for-profit environments (but collaborations are allowed).

We received very many good to excellent projects that would clearly be financed by other sources. This was particularly the case for those examined in detail by the Selection Committee. However as HFSP's mission is to finance innovative research, many were eliminated at this stage as i.) they were essentially the direct extension of ongoing work, often with approaches being used simultaneously in many laboratories worldwide (lack of novelty) or ii.) they brought together conventional combinations of scientists from closely related disciplines (all neurobiologists, all structural biologists, all developmental biologists….) and thus failed to meet the criterion of novel combinations of expertise. iii) they were thinly disguised consortium projects with multiple group leaders associated with each team member resulting in many more than four identified senior scientists. In general only one or two projects with 5  senior scientists are invited to submit a full application each year.  In the last decade, on average only one such project is funded each year. See Grant Awardees for examples of successful team composition (see also the following on team structure).

The Principal Applicant should be the person who will coordinate and drive the collaboration. The Review Committee has noted an encouragingly large number of early stage scientists as PAs in Program Grant teams. While in many cases this was justified, in others it appeared to be an attempt to impress reviewers (knowing that HFSP has a policy to support young scientists). Committee members are critical when it is apparent that the nominated PA is not appropriate. Note that up to the submission of a letter of intent, the team can change both the PA and the team members – instructions for doing this are given within the application form.

Reviewers pay particular attention to the proposed interactions between team members and you should build the strongest team possible making the most of the different backgrounds of the team members. If the basic rules for participation are respected (especially those of innovation and internationality), proposals are judged solely on scientific excellence. You should avoid adding a partner because of his/her i. geographical location, ii. scientific discipline, iii prestigious name (or that of his/her institution), unless he/she is really an essential partner. Note that 'add-ons' are easily spotted ('….and partner 4, expert in bio computing, will analyze the results of the other groups…' - no details of the expected methods are given, or the sole justification for a partner is that he/she assures the intercontinental nature of the team). In addition, if an award is made, such partners are often difficult to integrate and may indeed be a source of problems for the PI in running the project (they don't feel involved, the prestigious partner is too busy to participate and leaves everything to a post-doc., etc.). In the case of projects involving a national interdisciplinary collaboration, it is essential that the other partners are real contributors and not just providing samples for analysis by the other team members. 

Many applicants do not appreciate what HFSP understands by ‘risk’. It is not simply that « It's risky because it may or may not work ». A hand waving « but we hope it will », followed by a few vaguely described experiments, will not convince the reviewers of a full application. What is expected is that according to the team's calculations there is a reasonable chance that it will work - i.e is feasible. This might involve a discussion of the current limiting parameters of a technique, and the novel methods proposed that might bring improvements. Another project might start from observations from a different system to estimate the frequency of events that will be critical for the project. For data analysis it might mean providing an estimate of the number and nature of data points to be collected and a discussion of the appropriateness of a computational tool to handle such a dataset.

Different scientific communities have evolved different ways of tackling problems. HFSP expects international interactions, by creating new interfaces, to lead to innovative projects. Successful projects from all-European or N. American teams are rare (on average 1 per year). Such teams have tended to submit conventional projects, better suited to national or regional funding agencies. This will not necessarily be the case in the more diverse Asia-Pacific area which includes important HFSP member countries. Such collaborations will be assessed on their merits for frontier-style innovation.

For HFSP, interdisciplinarity is normally the collaboration of biologists with scientists from other disciplines such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, computational sciences, nanoscience and engineering. However as many younger investigators have received training in various disciplines, an innovative proposal coming from a team of ‘biologists’ may be considered appropriate by the review committee if they are combining very different expertise and scientific approaches. Note that this is a rapidly evolving concept: a novel combination of disciplines that allowed a significant breakthrough a few years ago will not be scored highly now if the same combination has become routine in the field. Past examples would be structural biology combined with routine functional studies or confocal imaging applied to developmental biology or cell biology. While the skills of non-biologists were essential to design and implement confocal microscopy and the treatment of images, much of this is now widely available (often commercially). The same is true for 'routine' bioinformatics particularly in the fields of neurobiology or immunology where these approaches are now part of the discipline. In these fields it would be expected that the computational component would also involve cutting edge science. More recently, organoids have moved from being a new development to their use in routine screening methods. In short, the use of 'off the shelf' tools would not be considered by the Review Committee as the mark of a truly innovative project. 

A national interdisciplinary collaboration must involve people with widely differing scientific expertise teaming up for a new project. They must be integrated into an international team (with emphasis on intercontinental collaborations). Two applicants from the same institution are rarely justifiable (see 3.3. and 4.6. of the guidelines) and two team members from the same country are discouraged because of HFSP’s aim to promote new collaborations across the world. In the case of two team members from the same country representing different disciplines, they will be considered as 1.5 team members for calculating the amount of the award. Two team members from the same country having closely related expertise will be considered as a single team member for calculating the amount of the award (and will be at a disadvantage during the review process). Financial calculations are made only after the scientific review is completed and an award recommended. All team members, even those located in the same country, must be designated as co-applicants on the online form.

Many bioengineers participate in LoI teams.  Those that reach the Selection Committee do not propose essentially applied projects but rather apply their skills to a problem in fundamental biology.

We often receive enquiries from such investigators in 'joint-venture' institutions that do not have 'not-for-profit' status because they receive both public and private funding. If institutional accounting is on a 'project by project' basis and there is no private support for this area of research, HFSP will consider financing such partners. 

We recognize that certain "dry" biologists will not have a conventional laboratory and that even senior scientists may work without a research group. As long as they are in an academic institute, they are eligible as team members. If you have a doubt, please contact the office at explaining the circumstances.

As there is no quota for Young Investigators and Program Grants, the distribution will differ from year to year depending on the relative quality of the applications in the two categories. In assessing applications for Program Grants reviewers are instructed to bear in mind the age and research experience of the investigators and many successful Program Grant teams include younger investigators. 

Every year we have a number of teams where one member is more than ten years from their PhD (or MD) or more than 5 years from starting an independent group at the time of the submission of the Letter of Intent. There are allowances for parental leave, compulsory military service or major medical conditions and these are to be included in the applicant’s CV as indicated in the application form. Apart from these recognized exceptions there can be no special bargaining. We apply the same rules to all applicants and will not negotiate on this. Such teams must apply in the Program Grant competition and are just as successful (see above).

Yes. The aim of the Young Investigator's Program is to allow newly established scientists to collaborate in a novel, interdisciplinary project. Your ability to conduct the project will be judged on your track record, but we realize that at that transition stage you may have been publishing mainly with your postdoc supervisor. You should make the positions of each of the team members clear in the application CV, Research Experience. 

HFSP does not have the means to support all the young scientists who would like to start a laboratory. Our aim is to support those that have been selected already by a University, research institution etc. to develop an independent group. However if you are expecting to move to such a position by October, you may apply for the letter of intent deadline. You do not have to complete the move, but will have to provide a formal confirmation that you have accepted the position for the beginning of June from the head of department of the receiving institute. Failing this, the Selection Committee will not consider inviting a full application.

To apply for a research grant, you must be able to determine the course of the HFSP-funded project and have freedom to administer the grant award. In cases of doubt, HFSP reserves the right to obtain written confirmation from your head of department of your freedom to conduct the research independently.